English magicians were once the wonder of the known world, with fairy servants at their beck and call; they could command winds, mountains, and woods. But by the early 1800s they have long since lost the ability to perform magic. They can only write long, dull papers about it, while fairy servants are nothing but a fading memory.
But at Hurtfew Abbey in Yorkshire, the rich, reclusive Mr Norrell has assembled a wonderful library of lost and forgotten books from England's magical past and regained some of the powers of England's magicians. He goes to London and raises a beautiful young woman from the dead. Soon he is lending his help to the government in the war against Napoleon Bonaparte, creating ghostly fleets of rain-ships to confuse and alarm the French.
All goes well until a rival magician appears. Jonathan Strange is handsome, charming, and talkative-the very opposite of Mr Norrell. Strange thinks nothing of enduring the rigors of campaigning with Wellington's army and doing magic on battlefields. Astonished to find another practicing magician, Mr Norrell accepts Strange as a pupil. But it soon becomes clear that their ideas of what English magic ought to be are very different. For Mr Norrell, their power is something to be cautiously controlled, while Jonathan Strange will always be attracted to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic. He becomes fascinated by the ancient, shadowy figure of the Raven King, a child taken by fairies who became king of both England and Faerie, and the most legendary magician of all. Eventually Strange's heedless pursuit of long-forgotten magic threatens to destroy not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything that he holds dear.
Sophisticated, witty, and ingeniously convincing, Susanna Clarke's magisterial novel weaves magic into a flawlessly detailed vision of historical England. She has created a world so thoroughly enchanting that eight hundred pages leave readers longing for more.
The library at Hurtfew
Autumn 1806-January 1807
SOME YEARS AGO there was in the city of York a society of magicians. They met upon the third Wednesday of every month and read each other long, dull papers upon the history of English magic.
They were gentleman-magicians, which is to say they had never harmed anyone by magic - nor ever done anyone the slightest good. In fact, to own the truth, not one of these magicians had ever cast the smallest spell, nor by magic caused one leaf to tremble upon a tree, made one mote of dust to alter its course or changed a single hair upon anyone's head. But, with this one minor reservation, they enjoyed a reputation as some of the wisest and most magical gentlemen in Yorkshire.
A great magician has said of his profession that its practitioners ". . . must pound and rack their brains to make the least learning go in, but quarrelling always comes very naturally to them",l and the York magicians had proved the truth of this ...
What kept me reading was partly an interest in the story itself, but mainly a fascination as to whether Clarke would be able to maintain the credibility of her world through to the end - she can. However, I never quite found myself lost in the book, and always felt like I was looking in from the outside.
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (540 words).
It took Susanna Clarke 10 years to write this, her first novel; it's exceptional
not just for weighing in at about 800 pages (an extraordinary thing for a first
novel) but also for the full realized world that she creates. Many
reviewers have described it as Harry Potter for adults. To the extent that
it's a book about magic set in a world like, but not quite like, our own, it is;
however, like most comparisons, you can only take it so far.
Interesting link: A complete short story: "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse", part of her 2006 collection, The Ladies of Grace Adieu.
If you liked Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, try these:
Prospero, the sorcerer on whose island of exile William Shakespeare set his play, The Tempest, has been captured and imprisoned in Hell, and time is running out for his daughter Miranda and for the great magician himself.
A story that feels mythical or folkloric, that is driven by a mystery, throbs with tension, and ends in conflagration. Rubys Spoon combines a gritty, hypervivid realism with the dreamlike richness of a fable.
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